Lottery

 

My two-year-old son, Philip, began riding a bicycle at the beginning of May.

I don’t mean a bike with training wheels. I don’t mean a push bike. I mean a bike the way you and I define bike. Of course, this isn’t something he just did one day. We’d been working up to the miraculum eventus. This time last year I purchased a Razor scooter for him. I did that because at the park one day he took off on some kid’s three-wheeled scooter and had that thing wired in about 40 feet. So I figured if we were going to do this, I might as well get him something that would offer a challenge. By the end of the week he was riding it to and from the park a mile from home.

Meanwhile, he was working on his hi-rev pedal stroke on the tricycles at his preschool. Well, that and learning how to high-side by taking turns at high speed.

So for his July birthday his grandparents sent him a Skuut push bike. Initially, I had to assemble the thing with the frame flipped so that I could position the saddle lower than is possible in its ordinary set up. He was too small even for that, at first. But by the end of September we were heading out for his first little rides. It remained equal parts curiosity and frustration for him for at least two more months. Then, somewhere around the beginning of the year, he started to get the hang of it and it became a fun delivery device.

I got stopped at the park when people saw him tear by on either the Skuut or his scooter. The most frequent question was, “How old is he?” That one is followed closely by, “Is he small for his age?” This latter came from parents who were thinking, ‘There’s no way that kid is only two or three.” I admit, it was fun to watch other parents look and point.

One night in April I was cruising around the Specialized web site (I do this for fun) and happened across their kids’ bikes. Now, I’d been told they made kids bikes, and I’d even seen them in bike shops, but I’d forgotten that there might be an intersection point between them and my son. Then I spied the Hot Rock, a kids’ bike with 12-inch wheels.

I was on the phone the next day. To be honest, I’m not even sure what I paid; I just gave them my card. It could have been full retail; I didn’t care—still don’t.

In the process of assembling the bike I took the package with the training wheels and dropped it in the trash. I didn’t think they would present any sort of help. He had all the requisite skills—the balance, the ability to pedal and the sense of what’s fun.

We called him into the garage to see the bike. I’ll always regret not having taken a photo of the look on his face when he first saw it, but the shot above is pretty close. We could have used it to illustrate the combined emotions of excitement and delight in a Wikipedia entry. The saddle, I found, had a handy little grip at the back, just the perfect place to hold the bike and give it a good push, which is exactly what I did once he climbed aboard. He rode around for about five minutes, came rolling back up to me, put his feet down and announced, “I done.”

With each successive ride he lasted longer and longer. Within a week we were riding the mile to the local park and back. Of all his toys, his bike is his favorite, overshadowing his love of Hot Wheels cars and balls of any shape or size.

Because I’m a cyclist this is something of a dream come true for me.

The odds that my wife and I would have a child who would take an interest in cycling were great. The odds against us having a child who would learn how to ride at such a young age were astronomical. So when I tell you that I feel like we hit the lottery, I’m aware that winning the lottery isn’t all strawberries and champagne.

“Professionals” have expressed concern that his speech acquisition isn’t optimal, that he’s not potty-trained yet, that he’s not big on sharing. My sense is that no one gets a child who scores all 10s, and while I’m not trying to make excuses for him, I’m aware that those who win the lottery are often no better for it. Winning the lottery, based on anecdotal evidence, does not improve a life. If anything, it makes it more difficult because it gives you a different—unfamiliar—set of problems to solve.

There’s a cosmic irony at work here. It’s easy to joke that the thing I most wanted to impart to him was cycling. It’s not. I want him to be a good person, not just decent, but someone others will look at years after I’m gone and say that he is a person with a moral existence, an internal compass that guides his actions. Athletic prowess, as exhibited by the spectacularly compensated stars of the NBA, NFL, etc., rarely seems to be a route to a considered life.

If I’d had the temerity to ask God for this, one could say he played a joke on me. But a desire to stoke a fire for cycling within my son has never been far from my mind. But here’s where I turn the table. My challenge isn’t just to show Philip that riding bikes is fun. No, my job is to walk him through the lessons of my life, to take him down the routes in which cycling taught me the lessons that guide my actions today.

My father keeps asking me to teach Philip that Sunday isn’t Tuesday. What he means is that he wants Philip to have a spiritual upbringing. For him, that means Catholic. What cycling taught me is that I can have Sunday any day of the week.

I’m just not yet sure how to teach that.

34 comments

  1. David Sandberg

    Thank you for a great Father’s Day story. You are blessed to be sandwiched between two great men. Your Father who has tried to teach you what has helped him in his life, and a son that inspires you to do the same for him.

    As a mentor of mine once said: “It is one thing to teach a dog to do a trick. It is something completely different to teach a dog, to teach another dog to do a trick.”

    I wish you all the success in the world in teaching your son to teach his son the life lessons you have learned from your father as well as those you have learned yourself.

    Happy Father’s Day.

  2. Walt S

    When the stars align and the Universe offers something unbelievable as a result, the wonder of the outcome is truly a joy to behold. Your son appears to be a natural, maybe the next incredible talent who happens to ride a bicycle?

    I know that all the love and support you will give your son is not dependent on any particular outcome, but think about the what it would be like to watch your son compete in the Olympics or The Tour? You both have an amazing ride in front of you down the road.

    My sincerest wishes luck to you both.

  3. Big Mikey

    Watching my mostly uncoordinated (bless her heart…) daughter ride a bike at 4 years old was the greatest moment of my life, bar none. I feel the love in your words.

    And don’t sweat the other skills. No kid gets to be the best in everything. It will all come in time.
    Also, the fact that you’re thinking about the important stuff sets you apart as a parent.

  4. Chris

    Hi Padraig,

    I just celebrated my second Father’s Day. I marked the day, in part, by jogging a couple miles chasing my son on his Strider run bike. He’s a much braver descender than I’ve ever been which means I have to pick him up off the ground and kiss boo boos just about every time he mounts his bike, but he is so far undeterred.

    As someone who discovered cycling, or at least fell for cycling, in my late twenties, I am so overjoyed and extremely proud to see my son tearing up the tarmac at barely a year and a half.

    I’ll have to check out Specialized’s catalogue…maybe Christmas next year.

  5. Chromatic Dramatic

    Ignoring all that serious gumpf at the end (who cares, we all just care about bikes), that is a super impressive effort to be riding (like actually riding) so soon. Impressed. My three year old hasn’t yet progessed to pedals (mainly because the hand me down bike is a little too big for him and ways more than my MTB). But his 4th birthday is just around the corner, so we’re waiting for that day to buy / give him a more appropriate sized bike. The best thing is, I took him to a bike store to look at bikes recently, and he was like any adult bike enthusiasts in a bike store, and sooooooo excited by all the bling. He just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t walking out with “his” bike.

    Great story!

  6. Peter Lin

    Congrats. I also got my kids specialized kids bike, when they were young. For me, weekend rides with the kids is a special time. I hope one day, they will join me for Kings Tour of the Quabbin or Mount Greylock century.

  7. Michael

    I do a bit of sales for a large bike shop here in CO and i never tire of selling kids bikes. They don’t care about carbon, weight, components, or suspension travel; they’ll ride anything with two wheels. Just grab it, cruise, and find that feeling of speed and weightlessness.

  8. Michael

    A wonderful post, Padraig. This was my first father’s day without my father, my first with my son, and my first as the father of a “cyclist”, as my 3 1/2 year old daughter graduated from her Giant Pre to her 12 inch Pudd’n a few months ago. Proud doesn’t even begin describe how it felt to see her take off around the parking lot for the first time, or link together her first few turns (though we’re still working on the whole stopping thing). As our first, we we’ve gone through the full range of worries with her, and of course it seems that everything always works itself out. There are others who are spelling or counting a bit better, a few who seem to have a better grasp of time or space. But she’s a good girl with a great big heart…she loves her family and friends and never hesitates to show it. She has good manners and takes good care of her little brother…I couldn’t really ask for much more

  9. Ben Martin

    My first child I gave a push bike at age 6 after having training wheels for over a year. She progressed to a “real” bike very quickly. My next child I gave a push bike at age 3, and by four he was pedaling his two-wheeler. He used training wheels for a month before I just decided to stick to the push bike. My third (and final) child just turned two last month and he doesn’t quite touch the ground on the push bike – I may have to look into that flip-the-frame-over trick. I am now fully converted to skipping training wheels altogether as you did. I think I am aiming for riding at age 3 with the youngest. Your boy is a natural, but of course he may find he is a natural at something else entirely and pursue it fully. But he will never forget how to ride a bike or look any less forward to his next ride.

  10. thrash

    Now that is VERY COOL! Thanks for the moment to cherish my days riding with the kiddies. I have one of Ariel out riding in the rain. She did not care – it was HER new bike and she NEEDED to ride.

    Question: In keeping with the Holy Trinity of cycling if Eddy is the son and Campagnolo is the father who is the Holy Ghost? I have wrestled with that and need your wisdom.

  11. WV Cycling

    Its such a shame that children’s bikes weigh more than our steeds. I know there are a few companies that specialize in uberlight kids bikes, but you would think a 20″ bmx bike these a days could be had for about 9kg :

  12. Curtis Mc

    Oh, what fond memories, I had one of those kids! Started him on a 10″ fixed gear with ‘foam’ tires, and soon he graduated to the 12″ Spider Man bike sans training wheels.

    I completely understand the looks of envy and amazement when we were out in riding around in public. I now get a huge kick when I run across a ‘micro’ rider at the park or in the neighborhood.

    We started MTB riding on the 12″ around 3.5 years of age; talk about looks of amazement! Now granted, it was some pretty tame stuff, but when you are barely 3 feet tall, and on 12″ tires, it’s epic…

    Fair warning however – you will be up-sizing the bike about every year or so; it’s going to be a let down when he doesn’t want to ride for a while.

  13. Patrick

    Stoke! In the exact same boat; my son Fionn attended his first bike race as a spectator at age 5 weeks. Also, the day I first saw him smile at me. He has a Strider and loves to ride in the Bobike chair or Chariot.

    In no way am I hoping to inspire athleticism and competition, just the physically-active=fun, experience. I want to teach him about what I love; he’s catching on quickly, happiest outside, running, hiking, riding.

    Keep on the groove!

    -PM

  14. Boy_Howdy

    You are worried about being potty trained at 2? You have a boy and – not to be sexist here – but all evidence points to the fact that boys can be harder to get there. They don’t care so much about making a mess in their drawers. Don’t sweat it. My 5-year-old makes it through the day fine, unless there is something just too cool going on at preschool in which he’s too focused to be bothered to leave to answer Nature’s call.

    He also can’t make it though the night most nights because a) he can sleep through anything, including midnight street repair and b) he’s told me he’s too comfy in his own bed to get up and use the bathroom.

    All things in good time. They are all different.

    He too is rocking the Hotrock (with a matching blue flame Giro helmet). They seem to be one of the few kids bikes which don’t weigh more than my own road bike. I too derive great joy in watching him have a blast on his bike. It has always been a liberating experience for me.

  15. Dave Gifford

    Having recently watched our son made the transition from pedal-less scooting to pedals, I can only encourage folks to look to the past for some wonderful bikes. Seeing the boy on his ’70s Schwinn Pixie lets me see how a bike is actually supposed to fit a child. No attempts to make it look like something designed to go off road, no akward riding position, just a properly proportioned youth frame with wheels of sufficient size for good gyroscopic effect. They were on to something, back then, in one of the golden ages of cycling.

  16. Eto

    Padraig,

    What a great story. I appreciate your honesty and reference to a greater order especially related to family. As parents, fathers, we can never underestimate the influence we have with our kids, planned or unplanned.

    I have a nine year old son that I went through this experince with and now I am in the middle of it with my three and a half year old triplets. One of the two boys, Max, started riding without the aide of training wheels just a few months ago. They all love to ride but he LOVES everything about riding like Daddy’s bibs, jerseys, socks and “click in” shoes. I did not prompt any of it other than my normal riding habits which have been curtailed since their birth. Not sure what the future will bring in terms of continued interest on their part, but I plan to stick with it.

    Thanks again.

  17. Dan C

    Nice story, Padraig. Reminds of my oldest ditching the training wheels at 2 1/2 and never looking back. Had the same thing with other parents asking how old he was as we tooled around Look park. He’s 24 now and although he loves mtb’ing with his buds he doesn’t have the “bug” like his dad. Skateboards got his attention as a pre-teen. End of bike love… Like you said, you never know what you’re gonna get. He did inherit my love of music and has become a damn good guitarist. OK, enough about us, great fathers’ day story. Thanks!

  18. Rod

    Great story. My almost 1 year old daughter saw her first crit yesterday (Father’s day race!) and loved it. She was clapping for the breakaway, so already understands better than her old man.

    Very much looking forward to have her on wheels. She loves my bikes, especially the really loud freewheels.

  19. P Poppenjay

    Awesome tributes to your beautiful Father’s Day column.

    They are well deserved and I am cheering with the others.

    A great, heartfelt work.

  20. gmknobl

    Wonderful! I have quite a few regrets in my life. One is actually using training wheels on my kid’s bikes. My first son would ride enthusiastically but I constantly found I was correcting him against dangerous riding habits as all we have are moderately busy suburban roads. The bike he got was presented to him by his grandparents who are quite interfering. Next thing you know, they got him to ride without training wheels after all the effort I had put into him learning. He was on vacation with them. This irritated me quite a bit. That was my job, I felt. I should be happy he learned at all though as that may not happen with my younger son.

    So, my second son won’t have the option of learning to ride from them. However, he got his older brothers bike, training wheels and all, even though I wanted him to have a scooter type bike. He saw his older brother’s bike and wanted it. I rue the day the grandparents offered to buy a bike then ignored all my advice on what to purchase. He’ll have a much harder time getting away from training wheels. You see, my younger son has mild Asperger’s Syndrome. He can stoke up fears out of nothing. He’s quite scared of riding without training wheels. At seven now, it is getting harder for him to learn to ride without them.

    I was his age when I learned myself. Although I was afraid too, I can still remember vividly the sensation when I rode in a circle without using them after my father had let go. I feel my younger son will feel quite a bit betrayed if or when I let go. But that’s still in the future. Just getting him to ride now is a challenge, even on a closed track. If you have a child with an autistic disorder, you may know the over-the-board emotions the child can exhibit. How do I get him to learn to ride a bike without training wheels when he resists riding with training wheels because of the slight wobble? And yet, when I emotionally push him to ride, hard sometimes, to go out on the track with me (an old high school track), when all is said and done, he brags about how well he’s done riding bike to others. I don’t think I should push so much but I don’t know what else to do. I’ve never seen a kid with such a uselessly hard outer shell to resist anything that his fears create and I don’t know how to handle it. Normally, I’d just let it go, figuring he’ll get it in his own time but I also know that as a child with Asperger’s, even though it’s mild, the longer I wait the less likely it is he’ll ever learn to ride. Swimming is the same way but I feel I have a bit more time with that.

  21. Jesus from Cancun

    Very nice story. Heart touching. This is what makes RKP different to any other website. This is why I am a fan.

    I also have 2 kids with their own kiddy bike stories. The third one, who is now 3 year old, is just starting to get curious about bikes, but he is different to his brother and sister, and I prefer to let him grow up a little more.

    I am sure that he would do fine. He is very active and has always shown physical skills above average for his age. But the problem is that he is very independent, which is a nice way to say that he doesn’t listen and follow instructions very well.
    I can easily imagine him learning to ride quickly, and then taking off away from our cul de sac and into the busy streets, with daddy desperately chasing him before something bad happens.

    It is already stressful enough to keep up with him on his scooter; I prefer to wait for him to be a bit more mature before I give him something faster.

    One step at a time.

  22. jorgensen

    Starting early is good. My son was different, and was very scared of two wheels for quite a while.
    I knew he could balance as he wielded a Razor scooter well, but the bike alluded him.
    Finally got him on two wheels at age 9.
    Two years later I got him a 24″ wheeled road bike, not that easy to find but found one.
    I had to rework the brake levers, cyclocross inline levers and modified the others to fit his hands.
    Integrated shifters were a non starter, his hands are not big enough yet.
    He does love to go out with Dad, so we do that often.
    He won’t be a racer, but that is okay.

  23. Scot

    Cool story! My daughter used a wooden Like-a-bike and was flying on that. At 4 she took off on a real bike. Two months after that she was fed up with the doll carrying capacity of the pink basket on her handlebars and asked me to hook up the Chariot trailer to her bike so she could carry more “babies”. So I did, and she took off towing the damn thing all over the neighborhood. The neighbors look at me with strange/damning looks but I tell them it was her idea. She is strong as hell now at 5 and a half- her K2 bike and the Chariot must weigh at least 40-50 pounds. She weighs maybe 36 pounds. I’m a proud papa for sure!

  24. Steve Compton

    Padraig,

    Congrats! I won a Strider at a CX race last fall and my 3 year old son jumped on it and didn’t ride his 12″-wheeled bike with training wheels again. On Sunday of this past Memorial Day weekend I took the training wheels off, aired up the tires and said. “Hey Jon, want to try to ride your bike?” He knocked me over running out into the garage so fast! I walked/ran holding his saddle for about 15 or 20 feet let go and he hasn’t looked back! Figured out how to get started on his own the next day. That night he asked when he would be able to ride Daddy’s cool bikes and when he could ride daycare. Definite Proud Pappa moment!

    Flashcut 17 days after his first real bike ride and we ride the 3.5 miles home from school on Friday afternoon (I’ll admit that it is mostly downhill) discussing bees, bugs, dinos, and what the golfers were doing beside the path. The next day we attended an afternoon community bike ride/fest/concert and he rode the 3 mile course that had a few hills. He will be 4 in July but the looks off everyone riding around us and them cheering him on during that ride made it one of the best rides of my life. Add to it that my duaghter (7) and wife took a wrong turn on the ride and ended up doing the 10 course on her 30+ pound 20″ wheel bike made for an awesome day. The best part was any time another rider would start to pass Jon, he would put his nose to the bars and pedal like crazy to stay ahead of them. It was awesome!

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for a great site.

  25. Pingback: Kids Bikes - Page 2

  26. A Stray Velo

    Just wanted to say that this was a nice read. I don’t have kids and don’t plan on having kids but it struck a chord and made me think of my dad and when he taught me to ride a bike. Great memories.

  27. Eric

    Padraig,

    Fantastic article. Glad you are having this time with your son.

    My kids all play sports but going riding with me is always better. From doing the local MTB loop with my oldest to riding to the park with my younger two. It is all so much fun. Except that the little one wrote a story at school the next day claiming to have beat me up the “big climb”. I followed him up the climb showing the front wheel to him every once in a while as he kept looking over his shoulder. Next thing I know, he is out of the saddle, panting, trying to keep Dad behind. Better than any baseball game he has ever played for me. Now if I can just convince my daughter that she is not Jan Ulrich and does not need to be in the biggest gear possible all of the time (honestly I don’t know why she even needs a derailleur).

    Sharing??? Not big on sharing??? Sooooo… you are suppose to share? Huh?!

  28. MHBurts

    @gmknobl – here’s something to try. Take the pedals off his bike and drop the seat so that his feet can rest flat on the ground, i.e. turn his current bike into a push bike. The thing that the push bike gives you is a sense of control that you will never get with training wheels. You can play with the tilt and learn empiracly how to balance while still having control. Take the pedals off of one of your bikes and go for a push with him if he needs a model. As someone on the spectrum – there is a difference between being told something and getting to know it, to feel it. That sinking feeling of maybe the training wheel is going to fail or not be there this time versus being able hold myself upright and the feeling that I know if I put my foot down I will be stable.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that he might benefit from a slightly less “good” biking position and a more upright style. I have friends that were never really comfortable with riding a bike until they tried one of the flat-foot designs like the trek pure – that extra sense of control, of knowing that they could comfortably come to a stop and not worry about falling over, made all the difference.

    One finial thought of hope, I was 8 or 9 when I finally pushed myself to riding. It was over a comment from one of my dad’s friends who had helped him assemble a bike for me as a Christmas present. Along about May or so I wheeled it out into the driveway to have him take a look at something and as I did so he got concerned over a ticking sound coming from the wheels. Turns out it was the hairs left on the knobs of the tires from manufacturing hitting the fenders – it was hard for him to fathom that they would still be on the tires a week later let alone six months. I got determined to show him that i could break in my tires and in the process learned how to ride my bike with confidence – i rode off and on, until in high school riding became my escape from all the other things going on. my point being that you never know what will inspire a kid to work at something, the important thing is that you give them the tools and the opportunity to try.

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